Immediately after Friday's loss to UCLA, while the game was still bigger than life, Arizona's locker room was funereal, almost as if the Wildcats had been kicked out of the NCAA tournament by East Tennessee State or Santa Clara.
Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons turned to the wall, their faces covered by towels. A songwriter might have applied the lyrics from "American Pie" - Not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken.
When you let one get away, especially a Really Big One in the Pac-12 semifinals against the Bruins, a 20-year-old ballplayer easily forgets that within 48 hours Friday's game will be old and amazingly unimportant news.
The Cats felt like they had their throat cut after the 66-64 loss. As it turns out, it was just a paper cut.
Arizona will be fine. It is playing its best basketball of the season at precisely the right time. And now it'll get extra rest. Isn't that the anthem of the losing team?
But one issue remains. Foremost, why did the Pac-12 schedule referee Michael Irving to call his third Arizona-UCLA game of the season? Was everyone else from a pool of about 30 refs occupied?
Irving made himself a bigger story than the players when he needlessly whistled a technical foul on Sean Miller with 4:37 remaining, Arizona leading 56-54.
And beyond that, can't the Pac-12 engage referees who are a bit more rested than Irving?
In his lead up to the UCLA-Arizona game, Irving called Thursday's Cal State Fullerton-Long Beach State game; Wednesday's Wazzu-Washington game; Monday's St. Mary's-Gonzaga game; last Saturday's USC-Wazzu game; last Thursday's Oregon State-Utah game and last Wednesday's Portland-Loyola Marymount game.
It was his seventh game in 10 days. He couldn't have possibly been at his best when his best was needed.
Irving's call was the most damaging technical foul assessed an Arizona coach since Jan. 11, 1992, when Tom Harrington called a technical on Lute Olson with 5:55 remaining in a historic Arizona-UCLA game. The Bruins led 76-74. At stake was the UA's 71-game McKale Center winning streak.
Olson was in the coaching box, didn't cuss, and Harrington was about 30 yards down court when he stopped, turned and formed his hands into a T. The Bruins used the call to produce a five-point possession, and won 89-87.
Olson raised such a ruckus (and had such power) that Harrington did not call another Arizona game from 1992-93 on. After 20 years in the Pac-10, Harrington's contract was not renewed after the '93 season.
No one's asking that Irving be driven off to the West Coast Conference or another lesser league, but the Pac-12 deserves better than for a referee to play a leading role in what was surely the league's Game of the Year.
Pitching help on the way soon for UA softball squad
In a Mike Candrea perspective, Arizona's once-dominant softball program is struggling, having lost eight games. It all spins on pitching in college softball and after Kenzie Fowler was injured two years ago, Candrea hasn't been able to replace her in kind. That could be changing. UA-bound San Marino (Calif.) High School senior Michelle Floyd has pitched five no-hitters since Feb. 28. Yes, five. And she allowed only one hit in each of the other two games in that span. She has struck out 137 in 56 innings and allowed one earned run in that stretch. Those in the softball community believe Floyd is the type of game-changer that could help Arizona win its ninth NCAA title. … Sheridan Cohen, one of the leading girls soccer players in Tucson history, is retiring from the sport because of a back injury. The defender started 17 games at Arizona during her freshman season last fall and was the Star's Southern Arizona 2012 Player of the Year. She played on three Catalina Foothills state title teams. Cohen, a pre-med major, will continue her education at Arizona. … It's doubtful anyone has had a better start to the junior college baseball season than Pima pitcher Keith Zuniga, who is 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA, pitching three shutouts for coach Jason Hisey's Aztecs. Zuniga was a standout at Nogales High before signing with Arizona, transferring to Pima, moving to the Washington Huskies in 2012, where he redshirted, and returning to PCC. He is on the recruiting radar of most West Coast colleges. … Salpointe and UA grad Brian Prouty, who reached the final stage of PGA Tour school in December, earned his first check on the Web.com Tour last week. Prouty finished tied for 40th, earning $2,758 at the Chile Classic in Santiago, Chile. … Sabino grad Lucas Reed's NFL Pro Day at the New Mexico Lobos' facility last week was off-the-chart good. The tight end had a 37-inch vertical leap, ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds, was measured with an 85-inch wingspan and did the maximum number of bench presses, with 25 reps at 225 pounds.
More Short Stuff
Campos, Sabino players draw interest from BYU coaches
Sabino High coach Jay Campos has been invited to speak at BYU's annual spring football coaches clinic Friday in Provo, Utah. Some of it is that the Cougars are interested, as are most schools, in Sabercats lineman Andrew Mike and tight end Matt Bushman. A bigger part is that Campos has gone 88-22 in the last nine years at Sabino and is expected to be a serious state title contender this year. How's this for an opening game to anticipate: Sabino will play at Salpointe on Aug. 30 in the annual Coaches for Charity Game. Salpointe will enter the season as a clear state title choice. … UA football coach Rich Rodriguez sat in the primo seats, front row, for the Arizona-Colorado and Arizona-UCLA games at the Pac-12 tournament. It's not like he blew off the week for spring break. Last Sunday, when his team had been dismissed for its spring holiday, Rodriguez spent the day in the office doing what he always does: recruiting. He and his staff entertained Ironwood Ridge safety-linebacker Jake Matthews and his parents for about five hours. RichRod offered Matthews a spot on the club's 105-man roster and will possibly offer a scholarship if space becomes available. Matthews is having an intriguing spring: Not only is he a possible Pac-12 football player, but the UA is now evaluating him for a baseball scholarship, as are major-league scouts. Matthews, who is hitting .579 with five early-season home runs, will be matched against Salpointe first baseman and UA-signee Michael Hoard, who is hitting .538, at this week's Salpointe tournament. Also playing: Sahuaro junior pitcher Alex Verdugo, who has already struck out 37 batters in 21 innings. … With two NCAA indoor championships last week, in the 3,000 meters and the mile, Arizona junior Lawi Lalang has won five NCAA titles. The overall record holder is former Wisconsin runner Suzy Favor Hamilton, who won nine distance running titles. "When you think about next year, Lawi could be scary," said UA coach Fred Harvey. "His better competitors are those who are seniors this year."
UA women eye NCAA mark in 400 medley
Arizona's women's swimming team enters the NCAA finals in Indianapolis this week projected as one of the five contenders for a national title. Wildcat junior Margo Geer is likely to challenge Cal (and Sahuaro grad) Caitlin Leverenz for Swimmer of the Year honors. Look for UA coach Eric Hansen's 400 medley relay team to set an NCAA and American record. The foursome of Geer, Ellyn Baumgardner, Megan Lafferty and Lauren Smart won the Pac-12 title with a time .60 seconds off the American record, even though they were unshaved and unrested for the meet. … Awaiting selection to the women's NCAA tournament this week, former Marana High basketball player Jamee Swan has become a vital part of Colorado's playing rotation. Swan scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds in the Buffs' Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal victory over Washington. … Palo Verde High grad Bryce Cotton won the Big East Conference scoring title, at 19.4 for the Providence Friars. What's amazing is that Cotton didn't get a scholarship offer from any Division I, II or III team until a week before Providence began classes in August 2010. … How's this for a football Class Reunion of note: Tucson High School and football coach Justin Argraves this weekend are honoring the 1945 state football championship team. Among those who returned to campus for the affair is NASA astronaut Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to fly around the moon. Borman was a starting halfback on the '45 Badgers. … UCLA's three-game sweep of Arizona this year was hardly a first. In 1937-38, Arizona State swept four games from UA coach Fred Enke, and in 1979-80 the Sun Devils won three straight from UA coach Fred Snowden. What's more, Russ Pennell's UA team of 2008-09 went 0-3 to the Sun Devils, and then went to the Sweet 16, while the Sun Devils were ousted in the NCAA Round of 32.
My Two Cents
Pac-12 tourney venue perfect, and it might even favor UA
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott felt so good about the league's inaugural basketball tournament at the MGM Grand that he went on a media blitz Friday morning, hitting virtually every ESPN talk show. He then called a press conference in Las Vegas at which his message was: We hit it out of the park.
He compared the tournament to the old Big East event at Madison Square Garden "kind of transcending how your team was doing."
I can't disagree. The MGM Grand produced electricity and a collegiate atmosphere. "It's probably more than a step forward," said Scott. "It's a leap forward."
Arizona is the beneficiary more than any other Pac-12 school. Geography and Arizona's insatiable devotion to college basketball makes Las Vegas a perfect destination for Wildcat fans.
If the UA creates any more of a home court advantage than it did last week, the league might complain the way it did in 1988 when the second Pac-10 tournament was held at McKale Center.